Why speech writers are critïcal for leaders’ success
One of the most critical responsibilities of leaders of any organisation is public speaking. Be it a political, religious, business or educational institution, the leaders are constantly called upon to communicate their visions and policies.
And public speaking is the main instrument to exercise their power and influence on the people under them. It is the same instrument they use to communicate with other institutions and stakeholders critical to achievement of their goals.
The level of success the leaders have with people depends on the way they use words.
And the substance of public speaking itself—the messaging—is not given. It requires thought, skill and tact. Leaders who know the power of words have speechwriters at their beck and call.
Some may think speech writing is a simple process. Nothing can be further from the truth. Formulating a speech fit for an occasion is not mechanical replication of the mandates and policies of an organisation.
Unless the policy, programme and project is new, the stakeholders know about it already. Even if they don’t know the new policy to be announced, stakeholders want something more, something connected to their hearts and souls. They want some stimulation.
A speech writer brings perspective, clarity and purpose to whatever issue, challenge or crisis a leader is addressing. He cuts through the complexity of policy and making it to resonate with the outside world.
And this brings us to the complexity inherent in public speaking. In any communication or public speaking situation, there is a dissatisfaction with the status quo. The speaker speaks to solve the problem or remove the discomfort.
It is the reason why all communication is persuasion. Regardless of the situation, all our communication initiatives have one goal. To influence another person’s attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviour. To solve problems.
Embedded in any speech are three fundamental pillars of persuasion: logos, ethos and pathos. Associated with Greek Philosopher Aristotle, they are strategies that speech writers must embed in speeches.
A speech must appeal to the logical or reasoning powers of the stakeholders. It must appeal to their emotions and, last but not least, the speaker must be likeable. Before you convince an audience to accept whatever you tell them, they must accept you.
The reason why the speech writing process of a defining occasion must start with an initial meeting with the CEO to get a broad understanding of the main points he or she wants to make.
Thereafter it is sustained conversations with policy wonks in the organisation. Closeness to the chief executive places the speech writer in a position to appreciate language, tone, temperament and personal beliefs.
The speech writer is not part of the policymaking process. If he is, he cannot look at the forest. He will look at individual trees and therefore fail to transmute the enduring vision, values and purpose of the organisation into the policy issue, problem or challenge at hand.
What is worse, the speech lacks appreciation of the personality of the speaker—a critical element in communication. Powerful speech must have the personality of the speaker as well as the hearts and souls of the audience. Not just facts and figures. Politicians know that you cannot persuade people using numbers.
In secondary school, I learned a phenomenon called a standing army. Our History teacher told us that this is a professional army composed of full-time career soldiers.
We learned that Shaka Zulu built a standing army that consolidated rival clans and built a large following establishing a Zulu Empire after conquering surrounding tribes.
Communities which depended on militia could not withstand the military strength and preparedness of Zulu and were dispersed to the four winds.
I personally believe that organisations can best improve their persuasive capabilities by establishing an office dedicated to speech writing.
Called to address the rhetorical or communications situations, they will carry out the necessary background information and prepare an appropriate speech fit for the varying occasions that the speaker is called upon to address.
It is appropriate words in appropriate situations delivered in an appropriate manner that make the difference. The leaders walk with the people when he does this. He walks alone when he takes public speaking for granted.
— The writer is the Communications Officer, Ministry of Education —[email protected]